Anatomy of a Vampire

Every vampire is different.

We are human and humans are sadly prone to making assumptions about people, about things and yes, about writing genres. My purpose in writing this is to clear up some of the misconceptions I see in vampires.

The problem is that most people base their interpretation of vampires on the last movie they saw or book they read.

When I tell someone I meet that I am writing a vampire novel, invariably the first question I am asked is, “Do your vampires sparkle?”

No, they do not. Now please stop asking me this question.

A fiction writer, whether they write for the big screen or a novel, is the deity of the world they create. That means they can tweak or alter general beliefs however they see fit. Vampires change. Every book written on them which catches the public’s eye has proven this to be true. So has every movie produced. When Josh Whedon made the “Buffy” series, all of a sudden vampires didn’t breathe. When “Twilight” came out, vampires began to sparkle. Funny, they didn’t before!

What I am frustrated with is the lack of research with which some writers devote to their genre. They seem to write stories on vampires to cash in on their popularity in the media and never think of the history involved.

Vampires have history? But they are a myth.

Yes, vampires have history. Any writer wishing to dive into the deep end of the pool would be remiss in their job if they didn’t do at least some research even if the topic is mythical. Vampires appear in many cultures in the world. And in every culture they appear differently.

I have done quite a bit of research on vampires since I first started writing “Deadly Conversations”. No, I have not used everything I learned in my story. (I did some tweaking of my own.) But to not do the research I feel makes for a very flat character with no substance. The writer wants their characters to live in the minds and hearts of their readers. How can they do this if they are one-dimensional?

The first vampire most people remember hearing about is Count Dracula. He is fiction. Period. Count Dracula was a real person, a ruler who did some truly sadistic things to protect his realm from the Turks. He is the reason that Transylvania is mainly Christian and not Muslim to this day. But he was never a vampire.

However the local populace of Transylvania has had a long tradition of folk tales about vampires. This culture’s rendition was the first that made it to the outside world thanks to Bram Stoker’s dramatic embellishment.

According to Bram Stoker’s account Dracula (the fictional character) could walk around in daylight although his powers were greatly diminished. Dracula also had hairy palms and terrible breath. (I’m glad modern versions of vampires have dropped those qualities!)

Malaysian vampires, otherwise known as Penanggalan, are less pretty in appearance. They usually appear as the disembodied head of a woman that flies about using her hair as bat wings and draining their victims of blood at night.

Scottish vampires, known as baobhan sith, usually appear as beautiful women in a green dress dancing on the moor at night. She attracts men to her like a siren and feeds on their blood. The only sign that she is not human is her goat like hooves which she tries to hide under her long flowing dress.

Chinese or ‘hopping’ vampires, which have been called jianshi, cannot enter a home if it has a ledge because they cannot hop over it. They are held at bay by sticky rice and can smell a mortal’s breath. They also tend to be more zombie like and not very intelligent.

So you see? Vampires are all different.

And then there are the beliefs of what makes a vampire or how to deal with one. These too change depending on their culture of origin.

The wooden stake belief started because a dead body belonged in the ground and superstitious people believed that it was necessary to “stake” a body to the ground with either wood or iron. Archeological digs from Slavic countries still to this day are finding skeletons staked to the ground in their graves.

There was a belief in Europe that if a family had seven children, one child would become a vampire. Or if a person committed suicide, or a black cat jumped over a body before it was buried they would return as a vampire. And another belief that if a vampire was truly vanquished, they must return as a ghost to haunt those who killed him.

Modern writers have added their own spin to the whole vampire story.

The fictional Dracula may have been able to come out in the daylight but when the movie “Nosferatu “ was released in 1921, audiences were introduced to the idea that sunlight could kill a vampire. Movies today seem to flip flop between vampires being able to stand the sunlight or not. Likewise it seems some vampires can breathe while others don’t need to.

My version of this is that vampires can breathe but it is not necessary to their existence. They can turn it off and on at will depending on the situation. They do however breathe cold. Therefore if it is cold you can see a human’s breath but not a vampire’s. This works in reverse in hot climates. So my vampires pretend to smoke to draw attention away from this trait. There’s my tweak to the tale that may or may not ever come up in my story. Also my vampires do not ‘flit’. Yes, their reactions are much faster than a human’s but not in such a way that it would appear superhuman. That would just attract too much attention. I also tend to think of the ‘flitting’ trait especially while carrying a human on one’s back, as plain ridiculous. But then that’s just me.

More than this I do not care to divulge because that would ruin the surprise for my readers. Spoilers!

Vampires have been in the horrified dreams of many cultures long before any movie on the topic was ever made. The advent of film only cemented the public’s fascination with them even more. They do not seem likely to vanish from attention any time soon. We should enjoy their nuances with every rendition that is made and not get stuck on a certain quality or depiction.

And as we shiver in our beds or couches late at night, glued to the pages or the screen’s flickering image before us, we will thank God over and over again that vampires are only fiction.

Or so we hope!


D. C. McLaughlin


One Response to “Anatomy of a Vampire”

  1. cariadfreckles Says:

    Hmm….well again we are on the same page here. I have spent many countless hours researching and reading many varities of vampire books, from forensic vampire, egyptian vampires and the more traditonal like ‘Count Dracul’. I have had a ball reading and compiling wonderful tid bits. I found ‘Count Dracul’s story to be stomach turning, yet sad at the same time. His early life was so awful. Yet I don’t advocate his behavior in implaing human beings.

    Anyways I loved how you too have covered your bases, and like I again….my vampires don’t sparkle. Instead they are mean and terrifying. Although my main Vamp..ahh now he too I have fallen head over heels for too…lol

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